Don Waller celebrated his 81st birthday April 6, commemorating not only eight decades of life, but nearly 60 years as a farmer, founder and owner of a successful funeral home business, and an eight-year term, 1988-1996, as president of the 200,000 member Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

And he’s looking forward, come early May, to planting another crop of cotton, which has been the one and only row crop on his farm near Oxford, Miss., for the past 40 years.

“I still feel good, still enjoy what I do,” he says, “and as long as I’m physically and mentally able, I have no plans to retire. I’d be totally miserable.

“I’ve had some great experiences, great travel opportunities during my Farm Bureau tenure, and business success beyond farming — but first and foremost, I’ve always been a farmer. There has never been a day that I woke up in the morning dreading what I had to do on the farm that day.”

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Since he started farming on his own in 1954, Waller says, he’s been involved in various enterprises in addition to cotton. “I’ve tried almost everything — poultry, cattle, hogs — but cotton was always the backbone of the operation. Some of my land has never had anything on it but cotton.”

He hasn’t been tempted by the high prices for corn and soybeans in recent years.

“All my equipment is geared to cotton, and at this stage of my life, I have no wish to expand or move into other crops. On our hill land, for non-irrigated production, I don’t think there’s a better crop than cotton. With no-till, Roundup Ready technology, and stacked trait varieties, I think we can grow it here in the hills cheaper than anywhere in Mississippi. For me, it’s by far the least risky crop option.

“Roundup Ready has been the key that made no-till production workable. Before it came along, everybody laughed that ‘no-till means no-yield,’ but being able to go over the top with Roundup made all the difference in the world.”

And the boll weevil eradication effort eliminated a pest that had robbed farmers of yields for decades, adding an extra measure of profit potential to cotton, Waller says.

“The eradication program got under way when I was Farm Bureau president, and I was proud to join farmers in Mississippi and across the cotton belt in supporting the effort. It took a long time and a lot of money, but it has been of tremendous value to the cotton industry, and will be of benefit to growers for years to come.

“All these developments have been the salvation for cotton producers.”

The current sharp cutback in U.S. cotton production — with one of the lowest acreages ever expected in Mississippi this year — is a concern, he says.